It is only the middle of the week of referendum voting, but Reuters, Al Jazeera, the BBC and other media all report that South Sudan’s leadership is indicating that the 60% threshold of registered voters has now been passed by the South Sudanese within Sudan.
The South Sudan Referendum Commission has not confirmed the report yet. But if this is correct, and if the voting that has taken place outside Sudan achieves similar results, the Referendum on Secession will have met the necessary threshold for the vote to be declared valid. After Saturday, January 15 at 5 p.m., all of the ballots will then be counted from the referendum centers all over the world. A vote for separation of 51% will be all that is needed for a new nation to emerge.
Some may be surprised by the relative peace in which the referendum is taking place. Others believe that the prayers of South Sudanese and all of those who care about them are being answered. Tragically, there have been some deaths. On Monday, ten South Sudanese were murdered in South Kordofan in an attack by northern Arab Misseriya tribesmen on their convoy going South to vote in the referendum. The Misseriya also wounded eighteen in the attack. In addition, reports have been received that Arab tribesmen and former Khartoum militiamen killed twenty policemen in the disputed area of Abyei earlier in the week. But John Ashworth, of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, explains, “have had no apparent effect whatsoever on voting in the south, nor on the climate of peace and stability in the south.”
Ashworth said that “Everything is calm, dignified and extremely well organised in the south, as far as we can see. While there is enthusiasm and excitement, it is somewhat muted as there is a general satisfied feeling that secession is the inevitable and unstoppable next step.” He added that just before the news reports came out tentatively claiming that the threshold had been reached, he was with Dr. Anne Itto, the South Sudan Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, and deputy Secretary General of the SPLM, and that she also did believe the 60% had been reached.
Up to 90% of the voters cast their vote within the first three days of the referendum in the polling stations in and around Juba, South Sudan’s capital, Ashworth said. In other stations that have from one to two thousand registered voters, only as many as between 20-100 people have not yet cast their vote.
Voting in Akobo: A Doctor’s Story
Bill Andress, of the Sudan Advocacy Forum, sent on a referendum report from Dr. Michael Tut Pur in Akobo, a town in southeastern South Sudan, Jonglei State. The town, unlike most in South Sudan, is blessed with both a clinic, built in 1911 and a hospital built in 1974 by Presbyterian missionaries, the only one within one hundred miles. Akobo was also the site of a horrific massacre in August 2009, in which 185 women and children were killed in an early morning attack by the Murle nomadic people on their fishing camp. But 2011 has begun with great joy in Akobo.
Dr. Tut said the referendum election started in the early morning of Sunday, January 9, in Akobo. “Many people slept overnight in order to be first on line,” he reported. Those of both “young and old ages are over excited with joy to vote for the freedom that each one of us has been seeking for so long,” the doctor declared. He said that an estimated 99.9% of the 38,000 registered voters are overwhelmingly voting for the separation of South Sudan from the north.
“The voting process in Akobo is peaceful and the citizens of the Akobo are happy with the upcoming of the new nation of ‘South Sudan,'” said Dr. Tut. He said even the hospital patients who are unable to walk have been brought to the polling station by ambulance, and that despite their physical pain, each patient has been determined to vote. “This is amazing;” the doctor exclaimed. He said that people with disabilities of all kinds were “overjoyed.” He recounted one elderly man, approximately 92, who declared, “‘I do not want these grandchildren to live in wars as I have lived; I do not want to die without hearing and seeing a South Sudan Nation.'” Then, said the doctor, he shouted in Nuer “KUAR NI KUOTH LUAK KO” which means ….God Almighty help us.”
What is also amazing, by the way, is this young doctor himself. Tut is a former Lost Boy, the son of a Presybterian evangelist who fled as so many tens of thousands of other young boys did when Arab militias attacked his home. After walking to Ethiopia, he was one of those sent by the leaders of the SPLA to Cuba to receive an education. Later he emigrated to Canada, and now he has returned to his home of Akobo. According to the Medical Benevolence Foundation of the Presbyterian Church (USA), “Dr. Tut is one of two physicians at Akobo Hospital . . . the hospital he brought back to life.” Tut and nine fellow former Lost Boys comprise one quarter of all of the practiced, licensed, Sudanese physicians for South Sudan’s estimated 9 million people. But in dedicated, skilled, and self-sacrificial citizens such as this young doctor and others like him, the elderly Nuer man’s prayers have already been answered. God Almighty is helping them. The new nation of South is already blessed.